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Superdetailing the DML T80 with ERA

12th Guards Division, Soviet Union, 1990

Matthew Malogorski

Kit Used: DML #3505

As part of DML’s Modern AFV Series, The T-80 with Explosive Reactive Armor fills an important void for both modern and Soviet armor fans. When this kit was released, reference material was still pretty scarce to say the least. Now that more information about the T-80 family of vehicles is known and available, it is safe to say that DML’s T-80 with ERA is a decent kit. According to the AMPS web site, the kit as built from the box actually represents a T-80BV. While molding quality is up to DML’s high standard, DML has made several errors with this kit, as referenced off of the AMPS web site. The first error is the road wheels are too large in diameter. An after market set was(?)/is(?) available to correct this problem, but was not when I built my model. The second error is the tracks are approximately 2mm too wide, (A fact I did not know at the time I built my model.) No other track for the T-80 is currently available, as far as I know, so I left my tracks as they came in the kit. Third, when designing the kit, DML forgot to allow for the upper track run to fit under the fenders, and the two halves of the hull will not fit together! (Leave off the top track run and the upper and lower hull will fit just fine, more on this later). The kit also has a problem with the gun barrel being too large. The explosive reactive armor needs to be raised off the hull with mounting pins of 2mm, 3mm, and 4mm for accuracy. In addition to these comments, I would like to add that there is also a lot of smaller detail that is missing or was overlooked.

In order to make the model more accurate, I had to add or modify oversimplified or missing details. This article will explain the modifications and the techniques I used to do this.


After the upper and lower hull halves were glued together, I made the following modifications. Casting texture was added to the front glacis plate and the hull roof using a stippling technique. I applied Testor’s liquid cement to the model, let it dry for about five to seven seconds, then textured with an old toothbrush. The idea is to let the glue dry just long enough to be tacky, so you don’t tear up the surface of the model, but at the same time, be able to control the texture you are trying to apply. If you get out of control with the texturing, you can tone it down with another application of the liquid cement, or use a light sanding with sandpaper. This is not a new technique by any means, but is a very easy one to learn how to do, and apply. Once I was satisfied with the texturing, I moved on with the basic construction of the model. My next step was to glue the reactive armor to the top of the hull. With Murphy’s law in effect, I found reference material that showed the mounting pins and attachment points for the reactive armor, after I had already glued it to the upper hull. This makes the model wrong, as the armor needs to be raised above the surface of the hull. The problem is that I had glued the piece so securely that it was never going to come off. (I guess that’s the way things work sometimes.) Moving on, I glued the headlight guards in place, and added weld seams from Green Stuff modeling putty. The easiest way I have found to make weld seams that are consistent looking is to put a pea sized drop of putty on a piece of paper and let it dry out for about five minutes. Take an X-Acto knife and cut the drop of putty in half. Roll the cut putty out into a "Snake" so that the diameter is consistent and the size of the weld bead you want to make. Place a tiny amount of liquid cement on the model where the weld bead is to be placed. Pick up the "Snake" of putty with the tip of the X-Acto knife, and place in the liquid cement. Texture the putty with the tip of the knife to look like your references. Blend in the edges of the weld bead with a very tiny amount of liquid cement and your finished. If you don’t like the way it looks, remove the putty and try again.

One of the disappointments of this kit is the lack of hinge pin detail. In order to make this tiny, but significant detail, I rely on one of my favorite modeling tools; a Waldron Sub Miniature Punch & Die Set. This Punch & Die Set contains punches that range in size from 18 thousandths to 63 thousandths in diameter, with each punch 5 thousandths in diameter larger than the next. The thickness of the punched out disk is determined by the thickness of the styrene strip or sheet that you choose. This set can make a circular punch out as small as 18 thousandths in diameter by 5 thousandths thick. To put that in perspective, a punch out this size is not much bigger than the period at the end of this sentence. I use this indispensable tool to make hinge pin ends, bolt heads, mounting points, adjusting knobs, & electrical connectors. By stacking smaller punch-outs on the larger ones, you can make your own nut/bolt/washer combinations. I used this tool to make the hinge pin detail on the entrenching blade hinges, and also to add bolt detail to the entrenching blade mounts. Unfortunately, most of this added detail is invisible once the model is complete, but I know it’s there. One other use for this tool is to add all of the missing locking pins on the upper hull sponson stowage bins. I glued the Driver’s hatch in the closed position, and added the hatch-locking lever from Evergreen plastic strip. The kit is missing the electrical leads to the headlights and infrared driving lights, so I added these from copper wire super glued into holes drilled with a pin vise. The headlights were filled with five-minute epoxy for the lenses. The final detailing done to the front of the hull for now was to add "Road damage" to the front mud flaps. I thinned the plastic from behind with a Dremel motor tool, and then carved out "chunks" with an X-Acto knife to make the flaps look like damaged rubber.


The T-80 series of tanks are prone to mud build up in between their drive sprockets and rear side skirts. Because of this, tank crews modified the skirts in the field by trimming about a third of the rear skirts away from the sprockets. Before I glued the side skirts to the upper hull, I trimmed the rear side skirts down per my references. This was accomplished by drawing a line with a straightedge from the bottom front corner of the skirt to a point where the skirt attaches to the hull rear. Once that line was established, I "scribed and snapped" the panels free on both the right and left skirts. A quick sanding with a sanding stick cleaned up any flaws, then the parts were placed back in the box for use later. I added hinge pin detail on all of the fuel tank cover hinges using the Punch & Die Set mentioned previously. The engine exhaust grill is a solid piece that you cannot see through. To make the exhaust open, I thinned the part by sanding on a flat surface, and then drilled out all of the grill openings with a drill bit in a motor tool. After the openings were roughed out, I cleaned them all up with an X-Acto knife. The exhaust grill was then mounted to the exhaust opening with plastic strip mounts. This was a very tedious operation, but it made the model look a lot better. The kit is missing all the weld seams around the upper engine deck & fuel drum mounts. I added these from Green Stuff putty using the process described earlier. The tow cable mounting brackets and hangers are missing, so I made these from lead foil super glued in place. I used the kit’s tow cable ends, but I replaced the tow cables with picture hanging wire that was annealed over a candle flame to make it more pliable. DML’s unditching beam is not very realistic, so I made a new one from a wood dowel that was scribed with a razor saw. The trick to this is to not only scribe the sides of the dowel, but also to splinter out the ends. This makes it look really beat up and used. After the beam was made, I completed it by adding the mounting brackets from lead foil & stretched sprue. The final detailing to the rear hull was to add bolt heads to the spare track mounts, and to drill out the spare track end connectors.


After the hull was completed, I glued the upper and lower turret halves together. I cleaned up the seams and then added casting texture using the stippling technique described earlier. This is the part of the kit that really takes quite a bit of work to get the model squared away. I glued the Commander’s cupola, hatches, periscopes, shell ejection port, storage bins and reactive armor blocks according to the instructions. (Once again I made the mistake of gluing the reactive armor to the surface). The reactive armor mounts for the turret front did not fit well in the mounting slots, so a lot of tedious filling was required to get rid of the gaps. The Explosive Reactive Armor Blocks for the turret front are molded as one piece and are designed to sit on the mounts. Well, they didn’t even come close to sitting flush. In addition to that problem, the kit pieces were not at the correct angle. To fix the mounts and armor blocks, I modified them with Evergreen plastic strips, cut every single Reactive Armor block apart with a razor saw, then glued each one on individually. This was not fun, but the only way to make the armor work. The next task was to glue all of the turret fittings and mounts for the turret equipment. After checking the alignment to make sure everything was straight and level, I added weld seams to all the turret fittings from Green Stuff putty as described earlier. Latch detail was added to all stowage bins from stretched sprue. I added hinge pin detail to the Commander’s & Gunner’s hatch hinges with the Punch & Die Set, and then completed the hatches by making the grab handles from copper wire super glued into holes drilled with a pin vise. While I had the copper wire on the workbench, I made electrical cables for the smoke grenade dischargers. The laser range finder is simplified in the kit, so I made a replacement from aluminum tubing & sprue. Breaking out the punch & die set once again, I added hinge pin detail to the shell ejection port hinges. All periscope glass, as well as the laser opening, was simulated after painting and weathering with 5 minute epoxy.


The first step was to glue the main gun barrel together. After sanding down the seams, the barrel didn’t look quite right compared to my photos. The gun appeared too large for some reason. It soon dawned on me that the end of the barrel looked too thick, and the thermal shroud ribs on the top of the barrel were too tall. To rectify this situation, I sanded down the thermal shroud ribs on my Northwest Shortlines True Sander. This is a really useful modeling tool that I highly recommend. It is a miniature sanding block and base that helps keep everything square. After completing all sanding, I cut the end of the barrel off with a razor saw and miter box, sanded the end of the barrel with the True Sander to insure it was square, and replaced the muzzle end of the barrel with the correct diameter of aluminum tubing. This now made the main gun look lean and mean. I then glued the main gun into the turret opening and fashioned a foul weather cover from Kleenex tissue soaked in white glue. Soak the tissue in undiluted glue to hide any trace of the texture of the Kleenex. Once the model was painted and weathered, I applied an undiluted coat of Testor’s Model Master Olive Drab with a little gloss mixed in to the Kleenex. This makes the cover look like it is made from a waterproof material. The Commander’s machine gun is very nice, but can also use a few modifications. I started by removing all the mold seams. I then drilled out the end of the barrel, and added bolt heads & locking pins to the mount from the Punch & Die Set. The kit includes the Commander’s armored shield for the gun. I had a photo of this, so I used it. The instructions are not real clear how the shield is mounted, so I made a couple of small tabs from Evergreen strips to mount the shield to the gun cradle. The kit did not include any clear plastic, so I made the small window in the shield from five thousandths Evergreen clear sheet. The ammo can for the machine gun was lacking detail, so I fixed it up by adding the carrying handle from plastic strip, and hinge detail for the lid from stretched sprue. I left the gun off the model until painting and weathering was complete.


The searchlights in the kit are OK, but all of them required work. I added bolt heads, hinge pins, and electrical connectors to all the searchlights with the Punch & Die Set. Once the searchlights were detailed, I left them off the model until all the painting and weathering was finished. After they were glued to the turret, I added electrical cables made from the copper wire mentioned earlier. Any searchlight that did not have an armored cover molded in place received lenses made from five-minute epoxy.


As I said at the beginning of this article, the tracks in the kit are approximately 2mm too wide. I did not replace the tracks, or attempt to correct the width in any way. In addition, as mentioned earlier, the top track run will interfere with the upper and lower hull. I did not realize this until after the upper and lower hull was already glued together. I also encountered some fit problems with the track links inside the sprockets. They were too wide to fit. After many abusive words at the offending parts, I proceeded by sanding the links in at least four spots each, and then gluing enough links around the drive sprocket and idler wheels to make it look like the model has a full run of tracks. This part of the model sucked, and in order to hide some of the tracks flaws, a healthy application of dried mud & dust was required during weathering.


This was a very nice point to finally reach. I had spent around 75 hours to build and detail this beast. After reviewing my references, I decided to paint my model in the traditional Russian dark green. I started with a bottle of Model Master #34079 Dark Green, and added Model Master Flat Black until it matched the color plate in the Osprey Book "Tank War, Central Front." I sprayed the model with a Badger 150 airbrush, and let it dry for two days. I then washed the recesses with Model Master Flat Black and dry brushed with the Dark Green straight out of the bottle. I painted all the details, and

prepared the areas for the decals with Model Master Gloss. The markings include white ID numbers for the turret stowage bins as well as the Guards emblem for the main searchlight. The decals in the kit are very thin and useable, and respond well to Solvaset. After drying, I dry brushed the markings to make them look worn, and to help them blend into the paint. The last step was to apply Polly Scale Flat to help get rid of glossy spots from the dry brushing, and to protect the decals from the heavy abuse of the pastels that are going to be applied.


There is a good photo in "Tank War Central Front" of a T-80 with a camouflage net on the rear stowage basket/turret area that I wanted to duplicate. I made the camo net out of medical gauze that was soaked in a diluted mixture of Elmer’s white glue and water. Most other techniques I have read tell you to apply the gauze to the model after it has been soaked in the glue/water combination. I like putting the gauze in place on the model, and then applying the glue/water mixture to the gauze with an old paintbrush. By doing it this way, you don’t get glue marks all over the finished paint. After drying out, I applied some Model Master Airbrush Thinner to the gauze. This relaxes the stiffness of the material and lets paint flow more evenly. I completed the net by painting it with Model Master Medium Green, Model Master Dark Green, Model Master Field Drab, and Model Master Military Brown. I made several tarps from Kleenex tissue soaked in white glue, and painted them using the same technique as described for the mantlet foul weather cover. Modern Russian tank crew gear is hard to come by to say the least. I made a compromise by using the bags and packs from the DML Spetznaz Figures Set. They may not be totally accurate, but at least they are Russian. Sleeping bags were added from an Italeri set that was in my spares box. Map Cases were made from Italeri mortar ammo packing tubes.


This is one of the most fun things about building armor. I started by dry brushing with Model Master Military Brown. The road wheels, lower hull, and rear side skirts received the heaviest application. I then dry brushed the upper hull and turret, concentrating on hitting the raised details. The pictures I have show T-80s on summer maneuvers, so my weathering was done to reflect a very dusty appearance. I wanted the model to appear as if the dust had been blown backwards from the front onto the upper deck and side skirts, so I followed the dry brushing with an application of pastels from my earth tone chalk set. Once again, I hit the suspension and lower hull the hardest and then lightened the effect as I did the upper hull and turret.


I completed the model by gluing on the searchlights and cables, the Commander’s machine gun, the rear mounted fuel drums, and the un-ditching beam. Once glued in place I touched up any glue marks with paint and pastels to blend these parts into the model. I made an antenna from 10 thousands steel wire and super glued it into a hole in the antennae base that was drilled with a pin vise.


I mount all of my models on a wood base. This allows me to move the model without having to pick it up directly, avoiding fingerprints, as well as other damage. The base usually starts as a routed plaque I buy at my local craft store. All I have to do is stain the edges whatever color I like and add the groundwork of my choice. After reviewing my photos, I decided on trying to show my model on summer maneuvers in a dry, open field of dirt. The terrain was modeled with Sculptamold that was sprinkled with fine dirt and sand. Track marks were made by pressing spare track sections into the Sculptamold while still wet. When dry, I painted the white Sculptamold with Model Master Military Brown mixed with Model Master Sand. To give the terrain some variation, I dry brushed it with four or five different shades of brown that were mixed from the colors just mentioned. This leaves you with a nice surface to apply pastels to. I made the groundwork look dusty by applying pastel dust that was created by sanding the chalk stick against a piece of coarse sandpaper. You can apply the dust by brush, or just dump the dust from the sandpaper onto the groundwork. Just remember, the more pastel you apply, the more likely you will be to lose all of your nice dry brushing. Once I liked the way everything looked, I called it done!


Tank War Central Front-Steven J. Zaloga (Pages 3, 11, 62, Plate K) (Used for Color Scheme & Markings,

Weathering Ideas, Side Skirt Details, Groundwork)

T-72 Soviet Main Battle Tank-Concord (Used for Turret Details: Searchlights, Machine Gun, Machine Gun Mount,

Smoke Grenade Dischargers, Weathering Ideas)

Die Kampfpanzer Des Warschauer Paktes-Waffen Arsenal (Pages 50, 51, 52, 53) (Used for Reactive Armor Mount

Details, Unditching Beam Details, Stowage, Markings, Hull Details)


"Quick Look" Modifications Sheet






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